I’ll admit it: I can be a cheap person at times. I don’t like spending money. I like watching the bottom line of my platinum savings account grow. While I give regularly and faithfully through my church, I am immune to the pleas for money that hit my mailbox, Facebook feed, or TV channels.
(OK, so many I feel a little tug when I see those sad dogs in the ASPCA commercials. I’m a dog lover, so my solution is to change the channel. Y’know, out of sight … out of mind.)
I sound heartless, but I do give to ministries I believe in. But I was especially moved to read about the life of Nathan Straus. (January 31 is his birthday.) You may not be familiar with Straus, but you’re familiar with his store.
Straus came to America when he was six years old. As an adult he and his brother sold cookware, and one of their clients was R.H. Macy. When he was 38, Straus became co-owner of the department store. It was under his reign that Macy’s became famous for its Thanksgiving Day parades and its ginormous store at Herald’s Square.
But there is another side of Straus that he would be preferred to be remembered for: He was generous. Incredibly generous.
- He was an early advocate for pasteurized milk and set up “milk stations” so that needy children could get milk. It is estimated that his efforts saved the lives of 450,000 children.
- During an economic crisis, he sold coal at a ridiculously low price for those in need, and if they couldn’t afford the five cent price, they could have it for free.
- To help the poverty-stricken, he opened up homes. Upwards of 64,000 people could have a bed and breakfast for a whopping five cents.
- During World War I, he sold his yacht so that the proceeds could feed war orphans.
In his lifetime, Straus made a lot of money … and he gave away a lot of money. When he died in 1931, he only had $1 million dollars left.
His will stated, “What you give for the cause of charity in health is gold, what you give in sickness is silver, and what you give in death is lead.”
Straus didn’t believe in waiting to give. When he saw a need, he jumped in. Cheap people like me are prone to think it was easy for a person like Straus, who had more than enough money to spread around. But I also know a person doesn’t develop a heart of generosity only if he is rich; a generous spirit is not attached to the bottom line of a person’s financial portfolio. Consider the generosity of the nameless poverty-stricken widow who gave everything she had (Luke 21:1-4).
While I appluad those who leave large gifts in their wills to support charitable organizations and meet needs, there’s something extra special about giving now. Consider the now aspect of Proverbs 3:9:
“Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops.”
There is an immediacy to giving from your crops. Crops don’t last; their benefit is in the moment of their ripeness or freshness. The farmer doesn’t will his harvest to be used when he is dead; years from now those crops are useless. To put that in my context, then, I honor the Lord, not by giving when I’m dead and no longer need it; I honor the Lord by meeting a need now. And I experience the joy of seeing my money used for something other than my personal wants and needs.
“A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed” (Prov. 11:25).
Nathan Straus would approve. But more importantly, the One I honor will approve.
“‘Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matt. 25:23).
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